Star-filled ‘Bible Experience’ a hit Longer

 By JAMES PRICHARD The Associated Press

Blair Underwood is the voice of Jesus in “The Bible Experience,” a hit on the audio book circuit.

It’s an epic telling of the life of Jesus, an ambitious production featuring an all-star cast. But it’s not a movie or miniseries.

It’s a new audio Bible released by Zondervan, one of the world’s largest publishers of religious books.

“Inspired By ... The Bible Experience: New Testament” features a large, all-black cast including some of Hollywood’s biggest names. And in the world of audio books, it’s a smash.

It has been at or near the No. 1 spot among the best-selling books listed on Wal-Mart’s Web site since its early fall release. The retail chain Family Christian Stores say it’s the fastest-selling audio Bible it has ever stocked.

The 21-hour production, which lists for $49.99, features the voice talents of more than 250 singers, clergy and actors, including Denzel Washington, Cuba Gooding Jr., Angela Bassett and Alfre Woodard. Blair Underwood portrays Jesus, and Samuel L. Jackson, who played a Scripture-spouting hit man in “Pulp Fiction,” is the voice of God.

“It’s really good, and it’s transcending every barrier. We’re thrilled with the way that the product has turned out,” said Paul Caminiti, vice president and publisher of Bibles for Zondervan, a Grand Rapids-based division of News Corp.-owned HarperCollins.

Zondervan started shipping “Bible Experience” in late September and has sold more than 70,000 units, Caminiti said. By comparison, Zondervan, which publishes the five best-selling audio Bibles in the United States, sells about 60,000 units each year of its longtime top-seller, the “New International Version Audio Bible.”

“Bible Experience” is available on CD and in MP3 formats, with an Old Testament version due in fall 2007 that is expected to run much longer. It will feature many of the same well-known actors, although someone will take over for Jackson as God, a role that will balloon from about two hours to more than 70 hours.

The project is the brainchild of Kyle Bowser, a former television executive with a law degree. At Fox he helped develop such TV shows as “In Living Color” and the Charles S. Dutton situation comedy “Roc.” Dutton is one of the performers on the new audio Bible.

Bowser, who is black, said he recommitted himself to Christianity in 1997 around the time his wife was pregnant with their first child. A few years later he bought a 65-CD audio Bible that he quit listening to “after the first two or three discs” because he was not inspired by the storytelling.

Bowser formed a production company called Inspired By Media Group with three fellow Christians: new media executive Ron Belk, music producer Louis “Buster” Brown and casting director Robi Reed. They decided early on to cast only black personalities to shatter the Hollywood mold of white Bible productions.

“I was particularly interested in developing a product that might resonate with the African-American community,” Bowser said. “I’ve long felt that Christian product tends to ignore our perspective.”



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